I first read Call Me by Your Name as I flew to Rome in December 2009 to work on a translation for a friend. I was staying in an apartment a couple blocks from the Coliseum, the Forum wasn’t much further away, and I was excited. The work was intense though, and for three weeks I was indoors all day every day, going out only for coffee and sandwiches, both taken standing up in nearby cafes in the mid-afternoon. My Rome, like Elio’s, was the nighttime city we walked through to go to restaurants and bars.
The book has been on my mind again recently because Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love, The Big Splash) has filmed a soon to be released adaptation that I’m eager to see. So when an old friend asked for some book recommendations, I suggested it to him. Once I had, I decided I wanted to go back and read it again myself.
Reading it was, thankfully, less overwhelming than it was the first time. I knew what I was in for, which meant I wasn’t dying inside every few pages. Yet the power of the book was undiminished. Aciman writes a story of desire that is narrated in terms of desire. Chronology is indistinct but the experience of time is palpable. Identity is indistinct and yet every detail of every scene testifies to the presence of a person.
What was most astounding to me though was the extent to which the various wild and roaming feelings sparked by and constituting desire and love are represented clearly and authentically by the narration. In my own memory of being young and in love, I retain my feelings whole. Aciman remembers the pieces constituting that whole and brings them back to life for me as I read. It’s intoxicating stuff.
I was worried this movie would be melodramatic and sentimental, but it’s not.
Not counting credits the film is only a bit over an hour and a half long, which means it’s all the time busy getting things done. There’re no wasted moments, no detours into side plots. The clock is ticking down to disaster, and the story marches clearly forward at a steady pace.
Because events not people are the focus here, the characters don’t really need to be more than believably sympathetic outlines. Kurt Russell and Mark Wahlberg both play to type to great effect giving performances that suggest imperfect but admirably reliable men. Dylan O’Brien, inexperienced and eager, is well cast as the boy among men. You’re rooting for these guys once everything goes up in flames and genuinely nervous when fear plays across their faces.
On the other end of the spectrum, John Malkovich looks like he grew a new set of teeth to play his loathsome BP exec and his Louisiana accent is near perfect. I expected him and his pudgy colleagues to throw people out of the lifeboat at the end but they didn’t.
So I’m pleasantly surprised. The movie’s a real jaw-clencher and I think it will stand up to repeat viewings. So I’m adding it to my informal list of great disaster movies.
A tightly scripted and beautifully photographed western set in the America a subset of Trump’s voters think they’re living in. Maybe they are.
The only part of the film that felt off was Chris Pine’s performance. Viewed in isolation, it’s strong. But viewed without blinders on, it comes across as an uncannily accurate impersonation of Timothy Olyphant playing Raylan Givens—his hair, size and posture, even the pacing and intonation of his line delivery—and that echo is distracting. You can see the visual aspects of what I’m talking about in the poster image above.
The resemblance caught my attention enough times to have “What?!? Oh, it’s just Chris Pine” running through my mind like a refrain as the movie played.
To achieve harmony in bad taste is the height of elegance.
—Jean Genet, The Thief’s Journal
A small film offering a convincing portrait of what life is like in a moment when what you knew and relied upon is failing you and falling apart but what comes next hasn’t taken shape yet and seems like it never will.
There are no easy options for the young protagonist, no quick jumps beyond the reach of his felt obligations, beyond the limits of his situation. And the film ends with a meaningful question that, after a lot of thought, I am still not sure I know the answer to (or even if there is one).
I really liked this movie.
This show proposes that a story might emerge from a mash-up of the popular sensations alluded to by its title and of the familiar monster tales evoked through its choice of characters. However it resists inventing that story. Instead it turns the raw material this way and that considering the initial premise’s possibilities in the light of the various, endless options, and only ever settles on the narrative’s path forward when it absolutely must.
The result is not unpleasant and can even be beautiful if you like late-20th century Goth-influenced takes on Victorian furniture and clothing. The wallpapers are gorgeous. There is velvet and lace galore and even smatterings of glossy leather. Corsets and vests are de rigueur. Everything is cut and coloured—like the actors hair—to read as cool and everything at every moment is macabre.[note]The one exception are the scenes of Frankenstein’s monster at work or at rest backstage at Le Grand Guignole. They are sentimental enough to turn me impulsively against the character and by extension against the entire Frankenstein subplot. They are nearly unbearable to watch.[/note]
The narrative however goes nowhere, lurching from one subject to the next and one genre to the next until the sprawl begins to place a sizeable burden on the “Previously on Penny Dreadful…” introductory montages. I remember one montage that worked through previous events three different ways before things had been sorted out enough to make some sort of sense, and then incredibly—and this says everything about how the series operates—the episode that followed had nothing to do with any of what had come before!
The result is a sense that things are being made up episode by episode, that anything can happen, and that we are expected to watch not for the story but for the style, which is to say, the spectacle of the style and of it’s presentation in ostentatious poses drawn from fashion photography. Any resulting pleasure is a product of the moods this style and these poses conjure, which means the show’s appeal rests squarely in the domain of taste: you either like these moments or you don’t, and if you don’t, there’s very little for you to hold onto.
For my part, I found the stretches between the moments I loved—even though there were many of them—bleak and long. So the season was heavy going.
After a season where they were only incidentally students, the kids* are back in school. They meet incoming freshmen, discover a (gay) werewolf playing for the Lacrosse team’s ‘cross-town rival. They also have to figure out how to deal with a mysterious figure hiring assassins to knock off supernatural teenagers, cope with some kind of were-jaguar or something, and also, Berserkers.
The big news though is that Scott gets a beta, a major event that rejuvenates the established theme of masculinity by introducing questions about mentorship and about boys’ relationships to their fathers. The whole thing works because the young werewolf, Liam, is so convincingly frightened and so desperately needs an older brother/father-figure to help him cope. The moment near the end of the season when he saves everyone by trusting that Scott hasn’t become a monster is pretty great.
Teen Wolf isn’t Sophocles, but at this point, it has established its terrain and generates serious and genuine turmoil under the surface.
* The promo image shows what high school “kids” look like in Beacon Hill. Gotta wonder if a few of them weren’t held back a grade or five.
Sunday wasn’t a great day, and as the afternoon wound down, I flipped over to Netflix to see if anything would catch my eye. For some reason, I clicked “play” on this movie which had never before tempted me in the slightest.
Looking back now, it’s hard to reconstruct exactly how it happened that I sat through it to the end, but I did, and as a result, I can say without reservation that Mortal Instruments is the biggest mess of a movie I’ve seen in ages. It’s gasp-inducingly bad.
And yet, there is Jonathan Rhys Meyers in black leather and rat tail braids. There is Lena Headey doing nothing but lying there asleep in scene after scene without ever getting a chance to wake up and kill her kid or fuck her brother. And there is Godfrey Gao in briefs and a dinner jacket mixing and mingling at a party. And there he is again striding smartly across an empty set in a fitted black robe with a cavernous hood that isolates and sets off his perfect profile. Also, there are vampires
These things alone should, by all rights, have made this movie wonderfully “bad” and carved it out a place in my magical gallery of guilty pleasures, regardless of what else was going on in the dreadfully silly (and terribly cast) main plot. Yet they don’t, they can’t, the rest is just too awful.
Which is tragic.
I haven’t read, hadn’t even heard of the text being adapted here—Austin’s “Lady Susan” and called a novella in the credits—but watching it, something about this unstoppable woman with her American friend made me imagine Austin writing with Henry James sitting at her elbow whispering in her ear. (Although obviously I hear the echo because she was whispering in his.)
My pleasures here are pretty specific and fully non-literary. I think Kate Beckinsale is great in even her worst movies (and am bothered that everyone else doesn’t), so seeing her in something wonderful is, well, wonderful.
And Tom Bennet’s Lord Martin may be the most perfect comic invention of 2016. His idea of what a good-natured simpleton trying to appear to be a sophisticated nobleman looks like had me in tears. I need a Martin in my gang of friends.
I find everything about the Beats fascinating. Yet oddly (and I would have thought impossibly), I also simultaneously find most things about the Beats deadly boring.
This film is no exception, and I find my reaction to it an inexplicable jumble of engagement and disregard.
Kudos though to Daniel Radcliffe for caring enough about the project to put his knees where his ears are, which is pretty amazing to see. A popular star in his position doesn’t have to take the career risk a gay sex scene this blunt entails. That he does and that, as a result, so many different types of people will see it is no small thing.